Well-Being//

How to Deal with Your Stress in One Minute or Less

If you want to know three optimal ways to improve your stress, read this.

Courtesy of  Anthony Lee / Getty Images 

There are three optimal ways for your body to deal with stress, and I call them “The Magic Three.” They are:

  • Sleep

  • Exercise

  • Meditation

Meditation is usually the one missing for most people, which is where I come in. Enter Ali!

What’s amazing about meditation is that it actually changes your brain. I am not going to throw too many scientific terms at you, but it is important to understand that consistent meditation creates neuroplasticity, which means that with consistent practice you can change the way your brain is wired and fires. How cool is that?

Emotional Awareness and Communication

Meditation helps to increase the folds in the insula, the part of your brain that is responsible for emotional connectedness to yourself and others. When this happens, you are better able to listen and communicate effectively and can interpret feedback as a growth opportunity instead of criticism. An experience recently showed me just how true this is.

I had a meeting with someone in the meditation field who I had never met before. We both live in Houston, so it seemed like a nice idea to connect and get to know each other a bit. I’d heard many great things and was really excited to meet her. During our time together, she gave me a big piece of unsolicited advice. I was caught off guard, which made my reaction that much more noticeable.

Pre-meditation, I would say in all honesty that unsolicited advice would put me majorly on the defensive and cause me to shut down. I can also think of situations where I got defensive and wanted to prove my position or point. This is not a flattering reaction, but many times when it happened I felt defenseless against it. This case was different, though. I was able to remain calm inside and truly listen to what she had to say. Instead of getting defensive and huffy, I ended up feeling really grateful for what she shared. I appreciated her viewpoint, and I felt proud of the growth that I saw in myself. Win/win.

Less Reactive, More Responsive

Meditation helps to decrease gray matter in the amygdala, the part of our brain that controls our fight-or-flight response, which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress. When this happens, we become less reactive and more responsive.

We can stop wishing for so many do-overs which translates to less screaming at the kids and then feeling terrible afterward or wishing you had thought more about that text before you sent it. Not that these situations never happen again, but they are definitely fewer and farther between.

Learning, Focus, and Memory

A consistent meditation practice also helps to increase gray matter in the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning and memory. For this reason, meditation is incredible for people of all ages. Children benefit from meditation, so be sure to teach your kids as many of the

one-minute meditations as they want to learn. Share with your own parents that even the Alzheimer’s Association advocates for daily meditation, and since we are all going to inevitably age, this study is important for us all to understand.

A study done at UCLA found that a three-month course of yoga and meditation practice helped minimize the cognitive and emotional problems that often precede Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia—and that it was even more effective than the memory enhancement exercises that had once been considered the gold standard for managing mild cognitive impairment. How cool is that?

I get so jazzed about meditation because it is the most portable self-care and self-help tool we have. You will read this fact a few times because I really want it to hit home that it is always available to us, and it doesn’t cost a dime! It’s simple, effective, and can be done anywhere at any time. Meditation works whether you are on a zafu cushion, hiding in a bathroom stall, or taking a few minutes to regroup in your car. And it can be preventive or prescriptive.

Preventive and Prescriptive

Taking a vitamin every day keeps you healthy, just like having a daily seated meditation practice has amazing benefits for the body, mind, and spirit. It keeps you on an even keel, feeling more centered and balanced.

Dr. Sara Lazar, of Harvard University, puts it really simply, “Meditating is like going to the gym. The more you go, the stronger, fitter, and younger your brain.”

My personal meditation experience started with eight minutes a day for eight weeks. I noticed the first change in myself after six weeks. I will never forget the moment when I was walking my dog and I stopped short. You see, I lived with anxiety that felt like a brick on my chest for years. I was so used to it, and it was just a part of my existence. I stopped short because all of a sudden I realized in that moment that that brick had lifted, and I finally felt free.

At first I wondered, Where did it go? Then I laughed out loud and asked myself, Who cares? I realized that the only thing different in my life was that I was meditating, so I decided to keep going and as time went on I noticed more benefits; I felt more compassion toward myself and others, I didn’t yell as much, I felt more confident and connected to my intuition, and I was able to sleep better.

Sometimes, even though you adhere to a preventative lifestyle, you can get a headache during the day, and you need a Tylenol. You need something to help in the moment. That would be a prescriptive response to something you feel right now. That is what a one-minute meditation does for your nervous system. It calms it in the moment of stress and brings you back to center and balance.

I wake up and meditate every day, but I also use mediation in moments of stress throughout the day, just like I would take a Tylenol if I had a headache.

I don’t have four hours to recover from stress on my way to a see a client if someone cuts me off as they cross three lanes of traffic on the freeway and absolutely ignore the fact that I am simply driving in my lane. I need to stop stress in its tracks so that I can arrive wherever I am going with my positive energy intact, and that’s just what happens when I use a quick meditation while stopped at a traffic light after I exit the freeway. Houston traffic definitely gives me plenty of time to practice!

If I am having a judgmental thought about myself or someone else I can stop it cold in just a minute.

If my kids are driving me nuts I can breathe for a minute instead of reacting in a way that feels terrible for all of us. I can thoughtfully respond and offer a natural consequence instead of blurting something out that doesn’t make sense—and then being stuck with it.

I can go from chaos to calm in one minute, and I’m excited to share all of my techniques with you so you can have the same experience in your day-to-day life.

I believe that one-minute meditations are the glue that binds my days together so that moment to moment I am bringing my best self to the world.

Even my husband, who was a skeptic of meditation, now uses these meditations as a stress reliever in his job in the financial industry.

Let’s face it. All hell can break loose at work, at home, or on the freeway in sixty seconds or less, so we must have tools to bring ourselves back to center and balance in just as short an amount of time.

Here is a meditation you can try:

Counting your breaths in meditation is a great way to maintain focus, but I have developed a way to supercharge this focus in also incorporating your fingers into the mix. Your breath is always with you, as are your hands, so this is a perfect one-minute meditation on the go!

  1. Sit comfortably with your legs crossed or feet flat on the floor.

  2. Maintain an upright posture. Feel your sitz bones connect with the cushion or chair. Elongate your spine by reaching your crown toward the sky, and give your chin a very slight tuck.

  3. Place your hand on your thighs and let them rest gently. No need to tense your hands.

  4. As you take a comfortable inhale, silently think “one” and place all of your awareness on the tip of your left pinky. You can press your finger tip into your thigh gently if you want, but it is much more about simply using your awareness.

  5. As you exhale, silently think “two” and place all of your awareness on your left ring finger and continue this pattern until you reach “ten” and the pinky on your right hand. It looks like this:

One: left pinky

Two: left ring finger

Three: left middle finger

Four: left pointer finger

Five: left thumb

Six: right thumb

Seven: right pointer finger Eight: right middle finger

Nine: right ring finger

Ten: right pinky

  1. Repeat the cycle starting with your right pinky and work your way back to your left pinky.

In one minute, you can do approximately three cycles, but it depends on the length of comfortable inhales and exhales for you. There is no right or wrong, just maintain a pace that feels right to you and don’t rush it.

If during this minute you notice your mind wandering, which it very well may, simply start over at “one.” If you lose count, simply start over. This isn’t a test, and you can’t fail if you have to start over. We are building our focus and concentration muscles each time we do it. You get an A every time you sit!

Published with permission from One Minute to Zen: Go From Hot Mess to Mindful Mom in One Minute or Less

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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